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Even in winter, be bear aware

Posted: January 27, 2014 - 10:28pm  |  Updated: January 27, 2014 - 10:32pm

With all the snow melting from extended above average temperatures this month, some Kenai Peninsula residents are wondering if any bears have made early appearances from their winter hibernation.

Heather Harrison, manager at Wildman’s in Cooper Landing, said a group of regulars who come in for coffee every morning have talked about the possibility of bear sightings due to the spring-like weather.

“It seems likely that their dens would be flooded out and they would be stirring around looking for food,” Harrison said. “Nobody has mentioned seeing one, but everybody who comes in has been talking it.”

Jeff Selinger, a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Soldotna office, said there have been no reports of bear sightings in the area.

It is not uncommon for bears to slip in and out of their den during the winter, depending on a number of conditions, he said.

While Alaska bears hibernate for nearly seven months due to the harshness of winter, any disturbances, like flooding to their den, would flush them out and force them to find another shelter, he said.

“Depending on the site of the den if moisture gets in that would prompt bears to emerge early,” Selinger said. “When snow levels decrease, light can penetrate into the den and wake them up.”

According to an article by wildlife biologist Sean Farley published by Fish and Game, during hibernation bears have developed adaptive strategies to go long periods of time without food and water by storing up fat and limiting their movement to conserve muscle mass.

Depending on the individual bear, if it went into its den in good condition with a large fat layer, it would not need to come out and look for food unless it was forced out because of den damage, Selinger said.

He said any bears that would venture out would most likely be males because sows typically give birth to bear cubs in January. Cubs are not able to walk or feed on their own during the first six months.

“It’s very uncommon for sows to come out because their cubs would be too small, hairless and helpless,” he said.

Selinger warned people who may be hiking to take precautions and be aware any time of year.

“Some bears may be roaming around looking for a food source then crawl back into a hole,” he said. “Usually it’s the moose that favor the snow trails because without the bears around they are free to roam around. Don’t get tunnel vision just assuming bears are sleeping.”

Selinger said brown bear hunting permits purchased after July 1, 2013 are valid until June 30, but hunters need to pick up new metal locking tags.

Harrison said a lot of customers have been purchasing brown bear hunting tags the past couple weeks.

“You would think the bears that are out and about would come down to the river or look through garbage around town,” she said. “But so far nobody has seen any.”

 

Reach Dan Balmer at dan.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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